Genomics on the mind

Lilly and SeqWright team up with a pair of Roche business units to get to genetic roots of psychiatric diseases

Jeffrey Bouley
BRANFORD, Conn.—Big Pharma player Eli Lilly and Co. andSeqWright, a provider of custom genomic and molecular biology services, will beteamed up with a pair of business units under the Roche Applied Scienceumbrella to use leading-edge genomic technologies to identify genetic variantspossibly associated with various psychiatric diseases, under a deal announcedJuly 30. The two Roche companies are 454 Life Sciences and Roche NimbleGen, andthey will come into play primarily with SeqWright using NimbleGen SequenceCapture technology to selectively enrich approximately 40 megabases of thehuman genome and then comprehensively sequencing them using 454 Life Sciences'Genome Sequencer FLX System.
 
According to Roche, this process will give Houston,Texas-based SeqWright access to the most advanced genomic technologies and "theability to transform the drug discovery process by reducing the time and moneynecessary for researchers to identify potentially clinically informativegenetic variations."
 
Lilly's goal in this four-way collaboration is, as with somany other pharmaceutical and research activities of the company, to improvethe outcomes of individual patients, says Dr. Brian Edmonds, research advisorfor the Global External Research and Development division of Indianapolis-basedLilly. Increasing the speed at which Lilly and other players can begin to understandthe basis of psychiatric diseases is critical to improving those patientoutcomes.
 
"Just a year ago, it would have been impossible to imaginehow we could selectively sequence such a large portion of the human genome insuch a fast and cost-effective manner," Edmonds notes. "We are participating inthis collaboration as a way to better examine the root causes of variouspsychiatric diseases. If this project delivers as expected, we hope to identifynew biomarkers or novel drug targets for future development of medicines totreat an array of psychiatric illnesses."
 
 
The psychiatric disease market is a significant one forLilly, and the company has four major marketed drugs in this area. Among themost recent is Cymbalta, introduced in 2004 for major depressive disorder andlater approved for generalized anxiety disorder in 2007 and maintenancetreatment of major depressive disorder in 2007. Another is Symbyax, introducedin 2004 for bipolar depression and then approved this year for acute treatmentof adult patients with major depressive disorder who have not responded to twoseparate trials of different antidepressants of adequate dose and duration intheir current episode. 
 
A third major drug in the psychiatric arena is Strattera,introduced in 2003 for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) inchildren, adolescents, and adults and then approved in 2008 for maintenancetreatment of ADHD in children and adolescents.
The fourth major marketed psychiatric drug is Zyprexa, whichcame onto the scene in 1996 for schizophrenia and got approval for acutebipolar mania in 2000. It was also released in tablet form under the name Zydisfor schizophrenia maintenance in 2001,
as combination therapy with lithium or valproate for acutebipolar mania in 2002, and for bipolar maintenance in 2003. It also wasmarketed in a rapid-acting intramuscular formulation in 2004, in granule formin 2004 in Japan only, and most recently as
Zypadhera this year—a long-acting injectable formulation formaintenance treatment of adult patients with schizophrenia who weresufficiently stabilized during acute treatment with oral olanzapine.
 
For SeqWright, part of the appeal of the deal is that thecompany actively desires to continue investing in cutting-edge technologies to helpchange and expand the ways in which researchers can advance their understandingof human genetics says Dr. Fei Lu, CEO of SeqWright.
 
"We have previously used the combination of NimbleGencapture arrays with the 454 Sequencing System in other areas with greatsuccess," Lu notes; in fact, Roche NimbleGen in March 2009 announced theavailability of Sequence Capture services through a partnership with SeqWrightunder which Lu's company will provide targeted resequencing services thatcouple Roche NimbleGen's Sequence Capture microarray technology withSeqWright's existing 454 Genome Sequencer FLX sequencing services.
 
"Thepossibility to advance the scope of these technologies, from basic researchapplications to use in clinical research applications in the future, is showingenormous potential," Lu says. "As a CLIA-certified facility, where we employ andevaluate these new research technologies, we are ready to help move theindustry closer to the goal of personalized medicine in the future, whereidentifying genetic variations within the human genome in a fast and accuratemethod will be of paramount importance."


Jeffrey Bouley

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